In Millennium: A History of the Last Thousand Years, chapter 4 ("The World Behind the Wind"), the second-to-last sentence:

On the evidence of the events of the fifteenth century, in the world east of the Bay of Bengal—the world "behind the wind", as Arab navigators called it—China could have [...]

There's more to the sentence, but it's not relevant to this question (it's about why China didn't end up conquering Europe).

The part I'm interested in is the "the world 'behind the wind', as Arab navigators called it". Where was this term first used in a literary work? The author quotes Arab navigators, but which one and when?

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    Is this on topic? It seems like a question in linguistics and etymology:-/
    – Standback
    Commented Feb 9, 2017 at 18:36
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    @Standback think of it as a quote-id then, which are on-topic.
    – user72
    Commented Feb 9, 2017 at 18:39
  • @Riker I'm voting to close this as off-topic for the reasons given in Standback's comment.
    – user111
    Commented Feb 9, 2017 at 18:41
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    Also, a slightly relevant point: does Millennium: A History of the Last Thousand Years qualify as literature? It seems like a work of history to me. (I don't have an opinion one way or another, but people on meta might disagree that this question is ontopic)
    – user111
    Commented Feb 9, 2017 at 21:12
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    @muru I doubt it. I'm looking for an example in literature, not the meaning of the phrase.
    – user72
    Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 5:02

2 Answers 2


I think “behind the wind” is a literal translation of the Arabic phrase that means leeward. It isn't a quote of a specific person, Arabic navigator or otherwise.

It's kind of obvious from context, if you look at the geography: the prevailing winds in the Indian Ocean north of the equator are from east to west, so something that is to the east is leeward.

And asking Google Translate for the translation of leeward into Arabic yields المواجه للريح, which it translates back word-for-word as “fronting / to the wind”. This corroborates my conjecture.

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    Can you check the second paragraph? I would have thought that if the wind is from the east, then leeward is to the west. Commented Mar 27, 2021 at 16:43

The earliest I’ve come across is from Herodotus’s Histories, Book IV, Chapters 32–36) where he speaks of Hyperboria, or the land behind the north wind (or the land behind Boreas, the god of the north wind). These Histories were written in the 5th Century BC.

  • hyper in Ancient Greek means "over" or "beyond." I'm not sure "behind" is an accurate translation.
    – verbose
    Commented Mar 27, 2021 at 4:58
  • The Ancient Greek “Hyper” was used in a great many ways (for sure much more than the two main meanings you mention), including “behind”. For instance see Liddell and Scott for a great many and various words beginning with this prefix, including at least one meaning “behind-“ Commented Mar 27, 2021 at 5:50

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